Representing the public interest

In a given year, the Commission will refer any number of discrimination cases to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for a hearing. The Tribunal is an entirely separate organization that makes decisions about discrimination. It evaluates the evidence and arguments from both sides, and then determines whether discrimination has taken place and orders remedies.

In cases that are sent to the Tribunal, the Commission attends mediation if the other parties are also willing, and participates in case management procedures. In addition, when a discrimination case has the potential to either affect the rights of many people in Canada or help define or clarify human rights law, the Commission’s legal team will participate in the hearing and represent the public interest.

Throughout 2019, the Commission was representing over 200 open cases that were before the Tribunal.

In rare instances a case will be judicially reviewed and will wind its way through Canada’s court system, sometimes all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. This can often take several years.


cases were referred to Tribunal in 2019



were related to employment



involved allegations of harassment

The right to live free from genetic discrimination

In 2019, the Commission intervened on behalf of the public interest in the Government of Quebec’s constitutional challenge of the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act. The 2017 law is aimed at protecting people in Canada from being discriminated against based on their “genetic characteristics,” or having their genetic information used against them in any way. The Government of Quebec is arguing that the criminal sanctions contained in the new law go beyond the federal government’s jurisdiction, and are therefore unconstitutional.

Working closely with the Canadian Coalition for Genetic Fairness, the Commission intervened in this case because it is concerned that a decision in the Quebec Government’s favour could rollback important human rights protections and leave people in Canada vulnerable to genetic discrimination. The case is now before the Supreme Court of Canada.

image of scientist conducting a test

young Indigenous boy on a bicycle in remote area

The rights of First Nations children

The Commission continued to work closely with the parties involved in the case known commonly as the First Nations child and family services case. For example, the Commission helped convince the Federal Court of Canada to let the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal continue its work in determining how compensation payments should be made to the victims of discrimination, despite the Government’s pending legal challenge to the financial award. The Commission’s ultimate goal remains unchanged since our earliest participation in this historic case over a decade ago: to see that every child in Canada has the same opportunity to grow up safe, with the love and support of their family.

The right to a discrimination-free workplace

In 2019, the Commission sought and was granted leave to intervene in the challenge of the Quebec government’s An Act respecting the laicity of the State (formerly Bill 21). The Commission will argue that this law is discriminatory and unconstitutional. As we have stated publically, we believe the new law runs counter to our country’s fundamental principles of equality, dignity and respect, and that laws should seek to end discrimination — not promote it. The Commission is set to make its arguments at the November 2020 hearing.

woman wearing a hijab working at an office